Although the facts alleged in a recent lawsuit entitled EEOC v. D&S Shipley Donuts are not quite as patronizing as the title of this post suggests; they are close. The EEOC brought suit against a franchisee of Shipley’s Do-Nuts claiming that the franchisee violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The Complaint alleges that Brooke Foley was employed by D&S Shipley Donuts until she became pregnant. However, this is not a simple case of an employee being terminated because she was pregnant. The complaint alleges that employees who were pregnant were required to provide a written medical release assuring the company that they did not have a “high-risk” pregnancy and that it was safe for the employee to perform the normal job duties. The EEOC also alleges that this medical release was required even in situations where employees did not request any type of accommodations or disclose that there were any medical issues related to the pregnancy.
When rumors spread that Ms. Foley was pregnant, the owner of the Company confronted her and allegedly demanded to know if she was pregnant. She refused to confirm that she was in fact pregnant. Nevertheless, during this confrontation, the owner told her that she was required to provide medical clearance. Ms. Foley was also allegedly immediately removed from the work schedule until she could provide the note. Ms. Foley objected to the requirement that she obtain medical clearance and was then terminated the following day.
This case has a rather simple lesson that is one of the basic premises behind the Pregnancy Discrimination Act — that employers cannot assume that pregnant employees will be unable to work or will not be dedicated to their jobs once they become pregnant or have children. Even in an environment where the physical demands are much greater than being a cashier in a doughnut shop, employers cannot simply assume that pregnant employees cannot perform the job functions.
A related lesson for employers is that the general rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations is that an employer cannot require an employee to provide medical information unless the request for information is job-related and consistent with business necessity. In the absence of a request for accommodation or some indication that the employee is actually unable to perform job duties on account of a medical condition, employers may violate the ADA by requiring medical information.